Last week I had the privilege to participate in a volunteer event that made me stop and look back at the amazing journey immigration has been for my family. Among lots of activities to choose from I picked ACCES. ACCES is a government-funded agency that helps skilled immigrants find jobs in their fields in Canada. The volunteer opportunity was speed mentoring: 6 colleagues I sat down with 8 new Canadians and spent 10 minutes with each one of them. The objective was to help them with whatever challenge they were facing in their quest for a job. You would see someone for 10 minutes and once the time was up a bell would ring and the mentees would rotate. All mentees had the opportunity to meet with all mentors and the session was followed by a debrief.
The session started and we quickly began to talk about their problems and concerns and what was supposed to be a pretty straightforward situation where an established professional provides guidance and advice to someone who is still trying to land a good job, quickly became personal and quite emotional.
As I overheard some of my colleagues, I noticed that my role in that session had to be different. Instead of talking about resumes and interview techniques (all my co-workers would be able to provide that), I had to focus on the challenges I have faced as an immigrant: cultural differences, language skills and how to overcome the lack of “Canadian experience”. I had to give them tips on how to sell themselves to an employer who will dismiss their education (“never heard of this university before”), their MBA (“it must be some shady university or something”), the 3 or 4 languages they speak (“English is not his first language”) and their international experience (“Brazil? Are you kidding me?”). In my opinion that's the biggest hurdle they will need to face. After a few months you begin to doubt your capacity, your experience and when that happens, confidence becomes an issue. Employers sense that and it becomes harder and harder.
It has happened to me. At one point I thought I was not going to make it. I needed a little push to make it happen and that's exactly what I tried to do. I tried to give them the little nudge that will keep them going. I wanted to make sure they will never second guess themselves and that they will always believe it is possible. I told them to be proud of what they had accomplished, I suggested that they be proud of their MBAs, I encouraged them to brag about their amazing language skills. That's how you do it. You sell yourself as a professional who has amazing qualities and skills. Easier said than done but once you do it, though, it becomes difficult to understand why you haven't done it all the way.
I teared up a few times. I chocked up a few times. I listened to their frustration. I know how hard it is. I also know how amazing the journey can be. When I stop believing, I did not need tips on how to interview better. I just wanted someone to say everything would be OK. That was exactly the message I delivered that day: “Everything will be OK. I promise.”
Immigration to Canada has been an amazing journey